Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool And Arsenal All Make Changes With Varying Degrees Of Success And One Spectacular Failure

Posted: January 29, 2017 in Arsenal, Chelsea, European Football, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Opinion, The FA Cup, Tottenham Hotspur
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The top six were all in FA Cup action this weekend. They all fielded “weakened” teams which, however it is viewed, means that the FA Cup is now regarded as being on a par with the EFL Cup. They are both competitions clubs would like to win but, if they don’t, then it’s no big deal and some of the fringe players and youngsters have had a run-out.

One manager was quoted as saying that, “we don’t have a weakened team we have an alternative team“. This should be true, especially when you consider the size and quality of the squads belonging to the top six, but it was said tongue-in-cheek.

The size and quality of the squads in the Championship is nowhere near as big or as good as the top six and yet they were also guilty of fielding weakened teams. So good, in fact, was Wolves’ second string, that they beat Liverpool at Anfield, a feat equalled only by Southampton and Swansea in the previous two games.

Chelsea fared considerably better with an easy victory at home to Brentford, winning 4-0 and, although they did make changes, they still fielded a relatively strong team. This, perhaps, demonstrating Antonio Conte’s combative nature whereby he hates losing any game.

Arsenal also secured an easy victory against a much changed Southampton 5-0 at St. Marys whilst Manchester City strolled past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park winning the game 3-0.

Tottenham Hotspur were lucky to come out on top against Wycombe Wanderers, who led the game twice and were in front as late as the 87th minute, but went on to lose 4-3.

Manchester United were better in their game against Wigan than they had been in their previous game when they lost at Hull. After huffing and puffing their way through the first hour they ended up winning the game quite easily 4-0.

So what makes the FA Cup less attractive a proposition than it used to be? Is it more games? Is it more competition?

Certainly the “giant-killing” aspect is not as magical as in days gone by. Nowadays, if a lower league club beats a Premier League club then, the chances are, that the Premier League club was fielding a weakened team which brought it much closer to the level of the lower league club. The sense of achievement is still there but not as great as it used to be.

The arguments for fielding a “second choice” team vary from club to club. One manager will say that certain players need a rest. Another will say that it is to give games to previously unused players. Avoiding injury to star players is another excuse/reason offered up. Whatever the reason, the Cup is no longer what it used to be.

For the better Championship clubs all the money is to be made in reaching the Premier League and, whilst a cup run still helps the bank balance, it can’t compete with the riches on offer for reaching the Nirvana of England’s top flight. So promotion will always take priority over a cup run.

For the top Premier League clubs the cups are a distraction and, if you believe some managers, they are a distraction which serve no purpose other than to tire the already exhausted players or expose them to the risk of injury.

Curiously, once a team reaches the semi-final stage of a cup competition, all the reasons not to be there dry up. Suddenly it becomes serious and the team, or more realistically the manager, who was belittling the competition a matter of a few weeks previously, now thinks it is the best cup in the world and would be proud to win it!

Present Premier League teams play no more games than the old first division teams used to. In fact, if anything, it is slightly fairer now in as much as more teams are involved in European competition as was the case and so more teams are playing equal amounts of games.

In 1968, the year Manchester United first won the European Cup, they played 54 games and they didn’t even enter the League Cup back then! There was no such thing as a deliberately weakened team. If you were a regular first team player and you were fit, then you played, whatever the game. This included playing in all weathers, a prospect which would have the current set of players crying into their Weetabix.

Snow, ice, mud, driving rain and hailstorms. All conditions which would see the immediate postponement of a match nowadays were commonplace in the 1960’s and 70’s. Snow had to be scraped away from the sidelines so that the referee, linesman and players could see them.

There were certainly many more reasons to justify playing a weakened team but it was never even considered. You put out your best available eleven in order to try and win the game, whatever the competition.

This was how it was and will never be again. The magic has faded, if not completely disappeared, from the FA Cup and the EFL Cup is, in it’s initial stages, just a training exercise for the under-21’s and recovering players needing match fitness.

And remember, it is only managers who complain about fixture congestion and too many games. It is only managers who complain about players being tired. When was the last time you remember a player saying he was too tired to play? Or that he wanted a rest. Or that he thought there were too many games.

The answer; Never.

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